Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Please open your political baggage

By Khaled Diab

With the long farewell discussion still buzzing in my head, I sat on the drowsy late-night train to the airport wondering whether my exit would be as tricky as my entry. I had already been warned by some to expect an interrogation on the way out, which was a new policy.

Partly to catch the last train and partly to give myself plenty of time for potential delays, I had decided not to go to bed and get to the airport more than three hours before my flight was due to depart.

While the passport control officer was checking my documents and asking me the by now routine questions – the purpose of my visit, whether I knew anyone in Israel, where I had been, etc. – a senior officer appeared over my shoulder and took the passport out of his subordinate’s hands. “Hi,” he said to me in a more friendly tone than I had become accustomed to. “You must be getting used to this,” he said cheerfully. I nodded my ascent. “I’ll have this back to you in a few minutes,” he promised.

In the long, long check-in queue, there were young men and women interviewing the passengers. The first interviewer to reached took one look in my passport and became somewhat nervous. Deciding that she wasn’t senior enough to handle a VIP like me, she asked me to wait a minute and called her boss over. Her boss asked me some pre-formulated questions and then stuck red stickers all over my bag – most of the people around had green stickers on theirs – which I presume signified my security level.

Next, on the paranoia conveyor belt, was the thorough checking of my bags. At a quadrangle of desks, I was asked to open my rucksack, shoulder bag and laptop case. While the two staff members were going through everything, including my dirty boxers and socks, with a fine-tooth comb (well, actually some sort of detector to identify explosive residue, I assume), I took the opportunity to admire my surrounding.

In an expression of Middle Eastern political hospitality, my red stickers had afforded me not only one searcher, like the rest of the passengers, but two. The book I’d received as a gift came in for special attention because I had unwisely answered in the affirmative when they asked me whether I had received any gifts. Honesty isn’t always the best policy! Luckily, I hadn’t mentioned the CDs!!

After my bags, it was my turn. The Yemeni Jew who had led the search took me to the same back room I had visited on my arrival for the X-raying of my luggage. There he patted me down and scanned me with a hand-held metal detector. “We apologise for the delay,” he told. “But I’ll take you through check in,” he offered as compensation.

We returned to collect my baggage and then he whisked me through the airline check in, led me to a special lift for my rucksack and led me to the customs area, making me feel oddly like a celebrity.

With a cappuccino to prop up my sleepy frame, I spent the last hour before my flight reflecting on my trip and all the intense experiences I had gained. I was glad to be returning ‘home’ to the mildness of northern Europe and the Katleen’s warm embrace.
©Khaled Diab. Text and photos.


TrueLeft said...

It's a pity you didn't ask, Khaled! It is common knowledge that at Ben Gurion airport you must always deny ever having received any gifts at any point throughout your entire life, let alone during your stay in Israel! :)

Khaled Diab said...

Now you tell me!! I'll keep that in mind next time. ;-)